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Train Station Committee backs designs for kids museum

The 'for the Kids, by George,' museum on track to open by spring or summer of next year

September 22, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Conceptual drawings of the "For the kids, by George" children's museum at the Caperton Train Station in Martinsburg, W.Va., include plans for a triptych, a three-panel work of art crowned by a depiction of George Washington as a teenager paddling a canoe.
Submitted image,

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Schematic designs for a hands-on children's exhibit and education center at the Caperton Train Station were endorsed Wednesday by Martinsburg City Council's Train Station Committee.

The "for the Kids, by George," museum in the city-owned property at 229 E. Martin St. is on track to open by spring or summer of next year, architect Lisa Dall'Olio said after presenting schematic designs for the project to committee members.

"I want to thank you ... for the opportunity to think like an 8-year-old for the last three months," Dall'Olio told council members. "Because I think that's what we're going to have to do to make this thing viable for kids and make them want to come."

In October 2009, the city agreed to act as the fiscal manager of a federal National Scenic Byways Program grant of $290,000 for the project. The grant money required a 20 percent match in local funds or in-kind services worth $72,500.

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With an endorsement of the plans from the Washington Heritage Trail Board of Trustees and Train Station Committee in hand, Dall'Olio said she and project manager Jim Castleman plan to get feedback from a group of mostly 4th and 8th grade students in a "kids caucus."

They will probably be our "toughest critics," Dall'Olio said.

In the next two to four weeks, Dall'Olio said they hope to finish a booklet that tells the story of the museum exhibits being planned, how the project came about and what they hope to accomplish. The book should help net more funding for additional museum features, such as audio files for exhibits, a silhouette photo booth and special effects for "immersion" galleries that depict life from the early 1700s to the present day, Dall'Olio said.

With a limited budget for the project, Dall'Olio said they plan to send out multiple bid packets for individual components of the museum to save money.

"We know that if we sent this whole concept out for bids (the cost) would be through the roof," Dall'Olio said.

"All the murals could be bid out separately ... and so by breaking it down into pieces like that, we're hoping that lots of local people can help us make this thing happen," Dall'Olio said.

Plans for the use of about 6,500 square feet of space at the train station include three "journeys" for children to take at the center. Their journey would begin at a "triptych," a three-panel work of art, in the transportation center's main waiting room. From there, directional signs on the floor would take students on their journey to interactive exhibits in three areas -- the track-level floor of the station, the pedestrian bridge that connects the station to the B&O roundhouse and shop buildings and a portion of the old station and B&O hotel, which has been restored and is connected to the station.

The educational center is being designed for children from 4 to 13 years old and exhibits are being designed to mesh with school curriculums in support of efforts to improve student test scores, Dall'Olio said.

She said about 60 students could visit the museum at one time and would pay a nominal fee.

The pedestrian bridge, an 8-foot-by-90-foot space, will not only be a safe place to watch the trains, but Dall'Olio said the interior is being eyed for a timeline wall game and a magnet area featuring sectional images of an 1870s passenger train and 1940s freight train.

"The kids have no idea what train travel used to be like," Dall'Olio said.

Other features being explored are wooden and Lego train sets that depict the train station and nearby roundhouse complex and viewfinders that could show how the historic property once appeared, Dall'Olio said.

While the children's educational center may not bring in millions in tax revenue to the city, Dall'Olio said she found that such museums are a "thriving industry" in the nation and 30 million people visit them each year.

"Thirty percent of all kids museums are actually the centerpiece of a town's revitalization," Dall'Olio said.

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